July 8, 2011
Judgments and Decrees
Crown of Victory
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Paul knew about many lands and cultures through his travels. When it came to finding illustrations for his messages, the Holy Spirit used the frames of reference readily available to Paul and His readers. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote about the great games in Greece, and the crown of victory given to victors in the competitions. The people of Corinth knew about those games, and Paul built upon their common knowledge to reveal truths about the Word of God and the crown of victory.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
1 Corinthians 9:24-25
Everyone Runs in the Race. Paul liked this metaphor of running the big race, during the games. Historians tell us that the Isthmian Games were held at Corinth, until the Romans destroyed Corinth in 146 B.C. In 44 B.C., Caesar rebuilt Corinth as a Roman colony, and it was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. Some time around the birth of Christ, Corinth regained control of the Isthmian games. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, Paul drew upon the common knowledge of the Corinthians regarding the races. He wanted to encourage believers not just to run in the big race, but to win the race. Jesus makes that same point in our lives today. He wants every believer to run the race with careful planning and training, so that we may win the race. Jesus does not mean that some believers lose their salvation, but rather that all believers must really run. If you have become content just cruising around the track, and watching everyone else zoom by you, then take a moment and consider the plan of God for your life. All of the athletes who ran in Paul’s day sought a perishable wreath (“φθαρτὸν στέφανον“), but we live for an imperishable (“ἄφθαρτον“) crown of life.
Competing and Self Control in All Things. Paul observes that everyone “competes” (“ἀγωνιζόμενος”) in the games in 1 Corinthians 9:25. Paul builds upon this metaphor of athletic competition to stir up the Corinthians to “compete” as Christians. Paul urged the Corinthians to use self-control, instead of the factions and fights they displayed, the out of control times they had around the Lord’s Table. The Corinthian assembly had problems with immorality, drunkenness, and many other sins. In fact, the congregation there did not even take steps to correct the problems, but apparently said nothing about them. In order to restore order at Corinth, Paul gave them the order to to compete as a winning athlete. We all need to heed this advice, and not just cruise through life without using our strength in Christ for His glory. He lives in victory every day, and we should follow Him all the time.
Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:26-27
A Life with Aim and Discipline. Paul now draws two conclusions from his previous command to run in such a way that you may win. In 1 Corinthians 9:26, Paul first orders believers to run our lives with aim. You can run all over the place, and off the track, and out of the stadium if you wish, but you will not win the prize unless you cross the finish line. Have you ever met Christians who seem to be sitting on the front porch all of their lives and doing nothing for Christ? Paul talks to those people and says to them get up, run with aim! Have you ever met people running around their house, taking care of many things, but accomplishing nothing of spiritual significance? Paul says to them, run with aim! Do you know people who are always busy with their hands, but they are just boxing with the air, and not really doing anything more that punching the air? Are you so busy in life at work that you have no time to run in Christ to win the prize He sets before you each day? You know, Paul says run with aim! We all need more aim in life from Christ. Paul also talks about discipline. Paul said that he disciplined (“ὑπωπιάζω“) his body and he makes it his slave (“δουλαγωγῶ“). Literally, he means lead his body around as a slave. So many people let their bodies determine their lives, but with Paul, it was just the opposite. He disciplined his body, and made it serve him as master, so that he could use his body to accomplish the aims and goals of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Disqualified after Preaching to Others? In 1 Corinthians 9:27, the simple phrase “I myself may be disqualified” has caused some readers to think that Paul worried about losing his salvation. As usual, however, the context helps us. We see from the previous verses that Paul was not talking about running a race to obtain salvation, but rather we run the race as believers for the purpose of obtaining the crown of victory, a specific reward promised by Christ. We are talking about rewards for believers, and Paul does not intend to suffer loss of any rewards, or fail to accumulate reward by faithful service. He boxes with purpose, aims every day, disciplines his body and leads it like a slave all for the single purpose of faithfully serving Christ. We never gained our salvation by good works, and we will never lose it by failure to produce all the good works we can. Paul here encourages believers to train and strive as dedicated, world-class athletes. We strive for the purpose of serving Jesus, and obtaining the crown of victory. Paul looks at himself and keeps in mind that he too should practice the same things he preaches to others about competition. Until the day we die, and go to be at home with the Lord Jesus, we should continue the athletic disciplines in our lives to run the race for the prize of the crown of victory.
So we learn more about Judgment and Decrees today.
● We must all run the race of life for the purpose of winning the crown of victory, an imperishable reward from the Lord Jesus.
● Until the day we die, we must compete with purpose, aim carefully, box with purpose, and discipline our bodies so that we may win the race and receive the prize, which is the crown of victory.
● As we think about rewards for purposeful, hard-striving service to Christ Jesus, we should be careful to always be an athlete, and not just a coach that preaches from the sidelines. Paul preached as an athlete, a player coach still in the race, striving to win every day. He considered he may be disqualified from obtaining all the rewards intended for faithful service, but he knew that if he continued to compete, he would receive the crown of victory.
Application for Today
As I live today, I intend to run the race, so that I may win the prize. I intend to be victorious in Christ, by His power, following Him as an athlete in training and discipline. I expect to receive the crown of victory one day, so long as I strive to win the race. Will you be looking forward to that crown of victory today?